Fine-Tune Your Writing Series: Read Novels

Library with books

“I am always chilled and astonished by the would-be writers who ask me for advice and admit, quite blithely, that they ‘don’t have time to read.’ This is like a guy starting up Mount Everest saying that he didn’t have time to buy rope.” ~ Stephen King

Well, there you are. Mr. King just said perfectly what I wanted to say. Thank you, Mr. King, for guest posting on my blog today!

Seriously, though, to elaborate, as an editor I have worked on more novels, novellas, and short stories than I can count where it was pretty obvious that the author had not read such himself in years. If you want to be a good writer, read other good writers and see how they do it. If you want to be a bestselling author, read other bestselling authors. They’ve trodden the path before you; they know the way. Humble yourself enough to admit that, even if you don’t personally like all their books, they really do know what they’re doing.

You will, of course, develop your own style and be unique. But if you truly want to keep the readers’ attention, there are fabulous ways to do it, and although they are subtle and not readily visible to the untrained eye, they are not secret ways. All the good authors know them, and you can learn them too. The best part is, you don’t always have to be consciously looking for them. As you read your favorite kinds of books, lots and often, and just have fun and enjoy them, you will be filling your subconscious mind with masterful storytelling. You will get used to how good language is supposed to sound. It will become second nature to you, one of those things that you learn without even knowing you’re learning, incidentally, the main focus of this series.

Just by way of personal example, one of my favorite authors was Sidney Sheldon. And one of the ploys he often used was parallel storylines, where two, or more, plots were happening at the same time, with each chapter switching back and forth between them. So when you came to the end of a chapter and decided you had to read “just one more” to find out what happened, no, you had to read two more before being satisfied. He didn’t invent the concept, but he wielded it like Indiana Jones wields a bullwhip. Way to keep people from getting to work or school on time, Mr. Sheldon!

By the way, that should be your goal. Make people obsess so much over your stories that they are late to places, they’re tired at work for being up all night reading, they don’t get the housework done, etc. They will love you! Have you ever heard anyone who’s just read all night long say, “I hate that author. I’m never going to read another book by him again”? No, didn’t think so.

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